Internet privacy isn’t broken — don’t try to ‘fix’ it


Charles de Gaulle, leader of the French resistance during World War II, once quipped that, “Politics was simply too important to be left to politicians.”

The James Madison Institute, believing in the power of free markets and limited government as the best approach to economic prosperity, is constantly seeking to sift through the prevailing narratives to get to the heart of how specific policies affect us all. Too often, the spin of the media or politicians neglects the realities and practical implications of certain policies, adversely affecting hard-working Floridians who, maintaining jobs, families, and responsibilities, are too busy to notice.

The recent actions by Congress revoking regulations supposedly protecting internet privacy and signed by former President Obama in the last minutes of his administration are one such example. Congress’ use of the Congressional Review Act to nullify Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband privacy rules was met with a great deal of hyped media attention. Numerous articles claim that this action will effectively break the internet as we know it.

Here’s the reality: The FCC’s proposed “privacy” rules were bad for consumers, bad for innovation, and bad for the internet — and did nothing to actually increase user privacy. Instead, they attempted to pick winners and losers in the private marketplace via regulatory overreach.

Unfortunately, there is significant lack of understanding, not only with the public, but also among the media, politicians, and other “experts” in favor of overregulation. What Congress did in March was simply return to the existing landscape, allowing the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC to work together and craft rules that really do improve user privacy.

For example, under Obama’s standards the Commission’s privacy rules only applied to ISPs (internet service providers). Sites such as Google and Facebook, no slouches in the data collection department, weren’t covered. And contrary to sensational claims, ISPs don’t have much power to collect data as is widely believed, especially with the growth of encryption. In effect, the capacity of ISPs, social platforms, and search engines to collect data are the same — so it would make sense then that the rules governing how each would do so should also be the same.

From the consumer’s point of view, literally nothing has changed — in fact, the FCC privacy rules that Congress nullified hadn’t even gone into effect. Instead, the privacy rules that have governed data collection for decades are still in place, and all ISPs have committed to a set of widely accepted principles that are in harmony with a robust privacy framework constructed by the FTC during 20 years of experience protecting online privacy.

When consumers go on the internet, they want their personal information protected, regardless of who is collecting it. For the internet to flourish — and consumer privacy to be as secure as possible — there should be uniform standards for all players in the arena. Thankfully, leaders like Florida Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney, Ted Yoho, Daniel Webster, Matt Gaetz, Ron DeSantis, and others used their best judgment to prevent regulatory overreach — and the internet remains unbroken.

J. Robert McClure is president and CEO of The James Madison Institute, a state-wide think tank based in Tallahassee. Learn more at jamesmadison.org